Saturday, March 25, 2017

Objective 1

Region-specific environmental characterization reports that highlight multiple resource uses and offer options for minimizing resource- and space-use conflicts or impacts of coastal pollution

Environmental characterizations provide comprehensive and integrated information about the coastal environment and are prepared in anticipation of a specific resource development or an emerging environmental issue. Often they include analysis of management options and may include modeling of specific environmental processes and scenarios. These can include habitat suitability modeling, simulations to identify impacts of coastal wind energy development on birds, and projections to determine biological concentrations and habitat use in areas of data paucity or gaps. The scope and nature of ecological characterization are determined by working collaboratively across federal agencies and with state, regional, local and Tribal partners, as well as non-governmental organizations. Characterization reports are made broadly available for use by industry, federal and state managers, industries, and other stakeholders to make informed decisions moving forward.

R&D Targets:

  • Assess the status of ecological condition and potential stressor impacts in continental shelf waters of the northwestern Gulf of Mexico

  • Assess the status of ecological condition and stressor impacts throughout targeted Areas of Concern in Great Lakes coastal waters, with an emphasis on information to evaluate changes in the quality of these areas relative to Beneficial Use Impairment designations and corresponding remediation action in the AOCs

  • Couple marsh-physical models to dynamically assess ecological effects of sea level rise in the Gulf of Mexico and demonstrate results in at least one National Estuarine Research Reserve, utilizing long-term monitoring data from the reserve

  • Establish linkages between land-use and coastal habitat degradation within priority geographic areas, including models that predict their future state

Objective 2

Region-specific, nationwide, operational capability for ecological forecasting

NOAA will develop a regionally focused, nationwide capability to forecast event-specific harmful environmental conditions, transition the capability into operations and facilitate its management applications. Emphasis will be on improving the modeling architecture and reducing forecast uncertainties. Ecological forecasting requires integration of observations, data from experiments, and any theoretical constructs, and efforts are underway to progressively reduce uncertainties over spatial and temporal scales of interest. It will enhance current efforts to document ecosystem response to environmental stressors and transfer that capability to coastal resource managers.

R&D Targets:

  • Document uncertainties in ecological forecasts in areas where forecasting capability currently exists

  • Characterize the species-specific habitat preferences (light, salinity and temperature) for harmful algal blooms (HABs) that cause ciguatera fish poisoning in the Caribbean to inform models of their distribution, abundance and seasonality

  • Expand the HAB forecast system to a national scale in support of NOAA's Ecological Forecasting Roadmap through the development of a standardized and modular system for data synthesis, analysis, and product creation

  • Demonstrate the utility of multiple modeling approaches in characterizing hypoxic conditions, and transition scenario-based modeling ensemble to operational use for the northern Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone

  • Transition ecological forecasting from research to operations in selected regions as progress towards a nationwide capability, and focus on topics of immediate concern, e.g., HABs, hypoxia, and pathogens

Objective 3

Improved water quality testing and monitoring technologies

NOAA actively promotes research for developing tools and technologies to improve field detection of toxins, contaminants, pathogens, and toxigenic algae. This work relies on high-end scientific instrumentation, development of micro-fabrication technologies, new data processing methods, and ultra-sensitive analytical capabilities. A related aspect of the objective is development and application of procedures based on genomics, DNA probes, immunological biomarkers, bioinformatics, and modeling of biological systems that have a potential for offering a common denominator of health or a suite of measures that could better quantify source attribution and effects of stressors. All such technologies and systems have potential for commercial use.

R&D Targets:

  • Develop multiple methods for detecting Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) cells and toxins, including new methods for identifying and quantifying toxins in multiple matrices, rapid field detection methods for use by state and local managers, and in-water sensors for HAB observing systems

  • Develop and transition methods to correctly identify toxigenic algal species and their toxins and communicate quickly to regional managers and stakeholders through education and training programs

  • Develop a prototype membrane electrode for detecting algal toxin(s) in the field for routine monitoring and potential commercial use

  • Develop methods for taxonomic differentiation and classification of pathogens found in coastal environments and protected species, and identify factors for their virulence

  • Conduct research to identify the pathogenic strains of Vibrio spp. that cause illnesses related to seafood consumption to facilitate development of monitoring technologies

  • Advance Microbial Source Tracking methods that better identify, distinguish and predict human, domestic animal and wild sources of microbial pollution

Objective 4

Improved understanding of emerging water quality issues, including the sources, environmental fate and ecological consequences of nanoparticles and microplastics

Nanoparticles, including fullerenes, in coastal waters present major analytical challenges and potential impacts. Some nanoparticles are now commercially produced for a wide range of applications, for example, as an oxygenation source in catalytic converters of internal combustion engines, antibacterial agents, sunscreens and a variety of coatings. They are found in wastewater effluents and coastal runoff. Data are beginning to emerge on their roles in retarding biological growth, disrupting geochemical cycling, and accelerating biological uptake of certain contaminants, which are otherwise present in concentrations lower than the “level of concern”. A related issue is of microplastic debris, on which there is sufficient scientific information to be concerned about their long-term ecological effects, and NOAA is engaged in elucidating pertinent scientific questions and approaches.

R&D Targets:

  • Identify the environmental significance of nanoparticles, focusing on metal oxides and carbon particles and develop a blueprint for high priority research needs and monitoring protocols

  • Assess the state of knowledge and scientific challenges in determining the quantity and ecological impacts of microplastics

  • Establish the relationship between microplastics and toxic chemicals in coastal and marine waters, and the resulting impacts on marine organisms via the food web

Objective 5

Understand the impacts of land-based sources of pollution

Human influences on nutrient cycling, coastal pollution, and ocean acidification can be important forcing agents of change particularly for coastal and estuarine environments. The suite of problems facing coastal ecosystems from land-based sources of pollution is broad due to the variety of land-based activities that transport sediments, nutrients, and chemical contaminants via surface waters, runoff, groundwater seepage, and atmospheric deposition into coastal waters. For example, excess nutrients can cause eutrophication, which often stimulates excess algal primary production, leading to oxygen depletion as decomposers of the excess production consume oxygen. Extensive oxygen depletion leads to hypoxia (i.e. oxygen < 2 mg/l) and drives up CO2 acidifying local waters. Most aquatic species cannot survive in hypoxic waters and acidification causes further complications to some organisms. Multiple sources exist in watersheds with complex transport and delivery processes controlled by a range of factors. These factors include the chemistry, ecology, hydrology, and geomorphology of the watershed and receiving system. The health of many U.S. coastal ecosystems ultimately depends on effective management of land-based activities in adjacent coastal and upland regions.

R&D Targets:

  • Conduct characterizations of nutrient, microbiological and other contaminant levels in the coastal zone receiving land and atmospheric based sources of pollution

  • Develop sensors for nutrients and chemical contaminants

  • Support Gulf of Mexico ecosystem restoration by completing a risk assessment for the Gulf of Mexico as part of the Integrated Ecosystem Assessment NOAA-wide initiative

  • Assess the impacts of water use practices and atmospheric land-based pollution on marine and Great Lake coastal ecosystems, water quality, and human and animal health